Evaluating Sources

When using a book, article, report, or Web site for your research, it is important to gauge how reliable the source is. In order to do this you need to look at the source fairly carefully and take several factors into account.

Initial Appraisal of the source

  • Author or creator
    • What are their credentials? Do they normally work in this subject area? Are they cited in other bibliographies or sources? If this is a web source, is their contact information for the author?
  • Year of publication: Is the source current or out of date for your topic? Is your topic in a area of study that has rapid change and development? Are you doing research on the history of a topic?
  • Publisher: Is this a university or other respected publisher? If it is a website, what domain does the site belong to? (e.g., .edu, .gov, .com, .net, .org)?

Content analysis

  • Intentions: What are the author's intentions in writing this material? Read the preface (book) or the abstract (article) to get a broad overview of their coverage. Are their bibliographies?
    • Is the work or page trying to get you buy something? Is it easy to tell what of the site is advertising and what is informational?
  • Intended Audience: What type of audience is the author writing for?
  • Objective Reasoning:
    • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? It can sometimes be difficult to separate these things.
    • Does the information seem to be well researched? Does it seem to be valid? Or are the authors claims questionable or unsupported?
    • Is the author's point of view objective or impartial? Is there a lot of emotional language or bias in the work?

Coverage

  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process; secondary sources are based on primary sources.
  • Does this work update other sources? Does it substantiate other material that you have seen? Try to look at enough resources that you see a variety of viewpoints-even if they differ from yours.